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courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame

Remembering How Mel Tillis Overcame Stuttering To Be A Country Music Star

One of Nashville's most prolific hit-makers died Sunday. Mel Tillis spent the last year dealing with intestinal issues, according to his publicist. He died at a hospital in Ocala, Florida, at age 85.

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Tennessee teachers are starting 2015 curious to know if it will be a second year without a pay raise. So far, state officials haven’t made any more promises.

WPLN pressed outgoing education commissioner Kevin Huffman when he didn’t even mention teacher salaries in his annual budget presentation.

“All the salary stuff – state employee salary and teacher salary – will be done through the governor’s budget release,” Huffman said.

Nissan

For the largest automakers in the U.S., 2014 got them back up to pre-recession levels. For Franklin-based Nissan North America, the year set a sales record.

A string of record months resulted in nearly 1.4 million vehicles sold – an all-time high. The Nissan brand drove most of the gains. The company’s luxury line – Infiniti – just barely broke even on the year.

greeblie via Flickr

Tennessee drivers received 102,000 seat belt citations in 2014 — 30,000 more than the year before. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the increasing enforcement of seat belt laws is part of its effort to bring down the number traffic deaths.

By the end of 2014, 952 people died in Tennessee as part of vehicle crashes, compared to 986 in 2013. It’s still too many, says Sgt. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

“They’re not numbers to us,” he says. “They’re friends. They’re family.”

Courtesy Father Ryan High School

The year 1965 was a strange one for black high school sports in Tennessee. The association governing black teams had folded into the white one, but African-American schools weren’t full members yet. They couldn’t play for the state championship for another year. The games were still segregated, but two coaches weren’t interested in waiting.

Grand Ole Opry

Since 1948, Little Jimmy Dickens was a mainstay at the Grand Ole Opry, including a show he played Dec. 20 to celebrate his 94th birthday.

The 4-foot-11 singer was known for his sense of humor, even in songs, often cracking jokes about his stature.

“I’m puny, short and little but I’m loud,” he sang in one of his oldest hits.

Other tunes had lines like “may the bird of paradise fly up your nose.” A song called “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait” won him the nickname “Tater.”

Blake Farmer / WPLN (File photo)

The happy new year was also a happy birthday for hundreds of refugees who now call Nashville home. Many asylum seekers are assigned January 1st when they can’t prove their date of birth.

Hussien Mohamud had more friends than he could possibly handle celebrating birthdays this week. “On my Facebook, 1,056 friends of mine get their birthday on that particular day, so it’s ridiculous,” he says.

voteprime via Flickr

For the second year in a row, murders hit a historic low in Nashville. There were just 41 criminal homicides in Nashville in 2014. That’s the smallest figure since the county and city governments consolidated in 1963, when police tracked 45 murders.

The highest year for murders in Nashville was 1997 when 112 people were killed.

Police chief Steve Anderson gives some credit to a recent focus on curtailing domestic violence. Just four of the murders from 2014 involved intimate partners. In 2013, there were nine.

Katy Campen / 100 Girls of Code

Technology companies in Middle Tennessee will be working more with high schools and community colleges this year, thanks to an $850,000 grant from the state. The goal is to get more students thinking about careers in information technology — that’s anything from coding computer programs to managing data centers or working at a telecomm company.

According to the Nashville Technology Council, which received the funding, only about 600 students currently take IT classes at local community colleges. That’s nowhere near the demand for jobs in the field, it said in its budget proposal.

TWRA via Facebook

Tennessee outdoor enthusiasts are resisting a proposal to increase the cost of hunting licenses in the state, even though it’s the first fee-hike in a decade.

Brian Brew is a taxidermist from Spring Hill who also runs several online forums for hunters. “I don’t know if I’ve seen one positive post made about it,” he says.

Highwoods Properties

Bridgestone Americas’ decision to move its headquarters from the airport area to downtown Nashville illustrates a larger trend: more businesses are eyeing downtown relocations and more inventory there is being prepared for office tenants.

Two big downtown buildings, the UBS Tower and the AT&T Tower, are being renovated for spiffier office digs, and Bridgestone is promising to bring 1,700 workers to downtown.

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The Latest from Classical 91.1

Nina Cardona / Nashville Public Radio

Former Tennessee Tech professor Wonkak Kim is back in Middle Tennessee for a visit, so of course we made sure to have him swing through our studios for a performance. Kim, a clarinetist, brought with him the Parker String Quartet. The ensemble is currently on tour and is serving a residency at Harvard.

Nina Cardona / Nashville Public Radio

Mozart wrote his opera, The Marriage of Figaro, in the late 18th century, long before reality television. However, a new production featuring Blair School of Music students highlights the similarities between the over-the-top antics and scheming of the classical-era plot and modern-day shows like Big Brother and The Bachelor. Ahead of their very contemporary production, singers from the Vanderbilt Opera Theater came to sing highlights from the show.

Nina Cardona / Nashville Public Radio

Baritone Jeffrey Williams is a cheerful, friendly guy, but he loves singing roles that explore the darker side of life. The Austin Peay State University professor obtained a Center for Excellence grant for composer Leanna Kirchoff to write a mono-opera based on Guy de Maupassant's "Diary of a Madman," which premiered on a Halloween night recital of spooky and creepy classical music at Austin Peay. Williams is joined by Ben Harris on piano and Kevin Jablonsk playing double-bass, with the composer on hand to tell us about her approach to the piece.

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